After a tough day at the laptop, or eight hours of childcare, a stiff gin and tonic doesn’t feel like a treat, but a God-given right. the ultimate reward.
This isn’t surprising, since the connection between alcohol and reward runs deep in our culture. Thousands of years ago our ancestors would drink scratch whiskey to celebrate getting through another cold, damp winter – and today booze ads with strap lines like “Earn it” encourage us to see our daily slog in similar terms.
Fair enough. But if you’re trying to radically cut back on alcohol – this booze/reward link is going to need to be broken.
Club Soda founder member Matt Chittock shares his internal dialogue at the end of a stressful day, how he has had to reassess the way he uses alcohol as a reward, and what does he does instead …
Me: You’ve just spent hours playing Disney princesses with your four-year-old: you deserve maximum gin and tonic!
I: But remember, you don’t need alcohol to relax. Have a sparkling water and…
Me: Don’t tell me what to do, a***wipe. Shut the **** up and get out the gin – you’ve earned it.
For a long-term drinker like me, cutting down on alcohol means challenging assumptions about what role it plays in my life. And this means looking at whether it really makes a good reward.
This is where reality bites. In my head booze is a passport to ‘grown-up’ time which Disney princesses can’t penetrate and where I can watch BBC4 in peace.
Yet, after sucking down three gin and tonics I feel like I’m the toddler, lying banjaxed on the sofa pissier and more unreasonable by the minute. And I’ll still be acting like a grumpy toddler the next day when I’m woken up with a hangover by my real-life child.
Despite all the ‘you’ve earned it’ rhetoric, what I’ve realised is that booze makes a terrible reward. In fact, the poor quality sleep and bad mood that follows a binge can feel more like a punishment.
Once you’ve got that fact into your head it does make the in front-of-fridge dialogue a bit easier.
But, if you’re still after a reward – what can you replace alcohol with? Well, it depends what kind of person you are. As a quiet type my alternative rewards mainly revolve around reducing the noise of the world.
They definitely work for me – but if you’re more of an extrovert you might want to try something that takes you closer to people, rather than away from them…
1. Starting a treat fund
Let’s face it: alcohol is expensive. And if you squirrel away the money you would otherwise have spent on booze you’ll soon have a stash towards a nice top, a good holiday, or that Adventure Time box set that’s been winking at you.
2. Take to the streets
Will Self loves urban walking and so do I. Fill your phone with podcasts, clear your mind and get healthy at the same time. It’s more relaxing than hitting the gym and great for getting a fresh perspective on life.
3. Curling up with a book
You can do lots of things while drunk: but reading ain’t one of them. For me, having time to curl up with a fantastic book is its own reward – and it’s hangover-free to boot.
Everyone needs to reward themselves from time to time: otherwise day-to-day life can feel like one long slog.
Another Club Soda member Lior Smith says that positive psychology helped her get through difficult months by focusing on the positive. She decided to get started on a list of 365 activities that she enjoyed, with the intention to do one thing a day throughout 2015.
Over a month, she added to the list whenever the mood took her, writing about half a page at a time, and sticking the paper up on her bedroom walls as she went.
She re-read things she’d written occasionally, and realised that in fact, she did many things almost everyday anyway. Reflecting on the list helped her realise that her life is made up of lots and lots of things she enjoyed. As time went on, she focused more of her attention on what was going right than what was going wrong in her life. Writing the list changed her perception of her current life by refocusing her attention on the positive activities that were within her power to make happen.
The effect of the list is that you become more capable of noticing and appreciating the good stuff when it does come; you are more able to make good stuff happen to you; and overall become more resilient, so that you actually become more able to admit that the bad stuff exists and attempt to deal with it.